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Cultural Competence in the Criminal Justice System

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Culture determines people’s experiences of their world. It is important in the reception and delivery of services. Cultural competence starts with knowing your cultural practices and beliefs, and recognizing the different practices and values of people from different cultures. This goes beyond speaking a different language, or just acknowledging a different group’s cultural icons. Cultural competence involves changing your biases or prejudgments on a different people’s cultural traditions or beliefs (Continuing Education Online, 2002-2016).

Cultural competence, therefore, can be described as a group of attitudes and behavior within a culture. These attitudes and behavior are incorporated into the methods of practice of an agency, system or its experts, and helps them work productively under cross-cultural circumstances. To successfully achieve cultural competency, knowledge about groups and individuals must be incorporated and translated into certain practices and rules applied in suitable cultural settings. Professionals with cultural competence build positive helping interactions, involve their customers and provide higher quality services (Continuing Education Online, 2002-2016).

The Value of Cultural Competence

Cultural competence involves validation, openness and respect towards a person with whom you have different cultural and social expectations and perceptions. People are usually “ethnocentric.” They think their culture is better than all other cultures. Some people are even defensive about, or threatened by the existence of differences in culture. To be culturally competent in the delivery of services, there are conditions that need to be met. One is having knowledge of different cultures, and how they affect behavior and attitudes. Secondly, one needs to be understanding, non-judgmental, respectful and sensitive when dealing with different cultures. In addition, one must be skillful and flexible when adapting and reacting to diverse cultural settings and situations. Cultural competence also involves acknowledging that everyone has a different experience in acculturation. This does not only involve different rates for different families of one culture. It also involves different rates that are within one family (Continuing Education Online, 2002-2016).

Cultural competent practices are guided by an ethic. Professionals who observe cultural competence in their operations help enhance suitable programs for serving people who are of different cultures. Every person needs to have the most significant capacities of empathy, genuineness and warmth. Professionals need to be respectful and compassionate when dealing with culturally diverse people in order for cultural competence to be achieved. This will help practitioners learn the behavior that is appropriate for cultural competence to be achieved. It is not enough, however, to only learn the appropriate behavior. Behavior must be topped up by some attitudinal moral responsibility and behavior skills. What matters is the fundamental attitude influencing behavior. Behavior itself does not matter. People who inherently respect, care for and appreciate others are able to show genuineness, empathy and warmth. This way, they are able to possess attitudes and behavior that are culturally congruent. The three essentials, when they interact, can help achieve cultural competence through acknowledgement of different values and affirmation of their clients’ cultural diversity (Continuing Education Online, 2002-2016).

The Elements included in a of a Criminal Justice Agency

The Center for Treatment of Substance Abuse (1998) states that cultural competence involves five elements. The elements mostly apply in a system of criminal justice. These elements include; cultural self-evaluation, understanding the changes brought by cultures interacting, valuing diversity, and adapting practices with regard to diversity and valuation of diversity. Professionals within the system of criminal justice need to have the certain characteristics. They include ability for self-awareness, ability for identifying diversity as a subject, ability for accepting others, ability for perceiving clients not merely as group members, but as individuals, and the will to defend and be able to culturally comprehend the specific reactions to different problems.

Professionals within the system of criminal justice need to either speak a foreign language that is commonly spoken in their region or be able to refer those who do not speak English to a person who speaks their language. They also need to know the factors that may inhibit the participation of minorities. For example, lawyers may experience cases where their clients are traumatized. Hence, in some cases, the clients may not want to share their experiences. In other cases, those lawyers who work for huge corporate firms may have to deal with international clients. This increases the chance of such clients sticking to various regulations in their dealings, despite their experience with lawyers. Such cultural expectations and values may inhibit the relationship between the client and the lawyer. This could be as bad as language barriers. It is important for the professional to sensitively handle the differences in culture. They must also find the resources that match the individual’s cultural values. There are some minorities who may end up seeking assistance from their personal social networks for support. Some may even choose to seek advice from people with whom they share a culture. Therefore, professionals need to advocate for clients’ services that match their cultures (Patel, 2016).

Implementation of a Cultural Competent Assessment

According to Patel (2016), in an , cultural knowledge is increasingly vital for professionals so that they can adequately deal with client needs. Therefore, the presence of an effective, unbiased criminal justice department is important in order to assess cultural competence.

The process of attaining this, according to Patel (2016), includes:

1. Creating and cementing relationships with culturally particular agencies, key community leaders and helpers, those serving culturally specific populations for them to make the best assessment techniques.

2. Permitting elasticity with culturally specific agencies. This means allowing freedom and flexibility to establish naturally. This could involve inviting their partners into the agency, making it possible for them to engage with comfort and with competence.

3. Providing training for all organizational ranks, both initial and continuing training. The training needs should cover theories of oppression and cultural competency, analyzing our own biases and assumptions, about specific cultures, among other topics.

4. Formulating strategies within the agency together with cultural experts to enhance their valuation of cultural competence in the agency.

5. Acknowledging that cultural proficiency is a continuous process. Demographics change, cultures change, and individuals differ in their identification with their cultures and what they borrow from it.

Advantages of Intercultural Communication Skills in Criminal Justice

Criminal justice can’t be attained without proper communication. Communication is commonly defined as giving, sending, or exchanging of information and ideas, often expressed verbally or nonverbally between parties. Rothwell (2001) sees communication as a transactional process of sharing meaning with others. In criminal justice, communication occurs in different settings such as police stations, courtrooms and juvenile and correction facilities.

Effective communication can only occur if no meaning is lost between the sender and the receiver of a message. Shared understanding is the main goal. In our society, effective communication is a challenge to our criminal justice officials.

In criminal justice, the cause and effect theory, which links the happening of one event with another event dependent on the first, is extremely important and this therefore makes the means and the ends of any situation equally important. Without proper communication, establishing the cause and the effect becomes difficult.

Law enforcement officers therefore need to have substantial understanding of how to communicate effectively with citizens, regardless of intercultural differences which are more often than not barriers to effective communication. Otu (2015) affirms this by saying that since with people from different beliefs and ethnic upbringings, law enforcement officials need to be sensitive to verbal and nonverbal communication of the citizens with whom they interact.

In his article, Otu (2015) expresses that is the ability to empathize, understand and communicate effectively with those who may not share one’s spoken language or background. Evidently, the world today is diversely mixed with people from differing religions, gender, race and traditions and therefore, it has become increasingly important for professionals in any field to be familiar with how to conquer such differences for the advancement of their professions. This includes the criminal justice professionals. Eliminating intercultural barriers eliminates side-lining of particular people.

Intercultural communication skills also enable professionals in the criminal justice system to harmonize the cultural context of the client or witness with that of the legal system. This eliminates the chances of lost meaning and effective understanding of intended meanings.

With effective intercultural communication, evidence leading to the truth is more likely to materialize and irrespective of the result of the trial, those involved are more likely to feel content that justice has been given (Otu, 2015). This statement affirms the need of our lawyers, judges, social correction workers, and all other individuals involved in the criminal justice system to be familiar with how to deal with clients who speak a different language, who are from a different race, etc.


Cultural differences need to be appreciated by everyone without judging on basis of our own cultural norms. Ethnocentric stereotypes ail our justice systems and this has caused unfair judgments in our courts. Practitioners of criminal justice need to be well educated on the benefits of a society that is culturally diverse, right from the start of their training. It is also a virtue that citizens need to uphold and help reinforce.

Culturally proficient individuals must be assessed throughout the legal system for them to facilitate the assimilation and understanding of patterns and behavior of differing cultures without ethnocentric favoritisms (Otu 2015).


Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (1998). Case Management for Clients With Special Needs. Retrieved August 7, 2016, from National Center for Biotechnology Information:

Continuing Education Online. (2002-2016). Cultural Competency and Diversity. Retrieved August 7, 2016, from Continuing Education Online:

Otu, N. (2015). Decoding Nonverbal Communication In Law Enforcement. Salus Journal, Issue 3, No. 2, 1-16. Retrieved from Salus Journal:

Patel, S. (2016). Cultural Competency Training: Preparing Law Students for Practice in Our Multicultural World. Retrieved August 7, 2016, from UCLA Law Review: